The caged bird sings at Songbyrd Cafe

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Margot Durfee

It was a cold, brisk Thursday evening. People huddled behind foggy windows in restaurants and the streets were mostly empty. My friend and I rushed down the street to a small, brick building with a purple neon sign that read “SongByrd Cafe”. A deep tempo thumped through the walls and jazz music floated out from under the front door.

Walking in, the cafe was dimly lit. People sat talking at a bar in the back; from the next room over a man’s wistful voice drifted out of the room, singing the words, “You and I want to live forever.” A makeshift stage was set up in the front and rows of foldable chairs were squeezed in the back of the room between a long table of vinyl records and a barista counter.

This was the monthly Open-Mic-Night at SongByrd Cafe, a hipster spot in Adams Morgan where people can sip overpriced coffee, browse through vinyl records, and listen to nightly musical performances. Held every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month, Songbyrd Cafe gives a chance for upcoming artists to showcase their talent to the public. Previous to this, I’d never been to an open-mic performance, but I soon discovered that some singers were, to put it lightly, more talented than others. Still, I enjoyed the intimacy the audience shared with each performer. Unlike many mainstream artists, these musicians talked about how they had a pretty bad year, before singing a song they wrote to cope with it. The best part is, after singing a particularly emotional song, they’ll sit down in the seat right next to you to watch the rest of the performances.

There were more people than I had expected; we spent the majority of the night standing under the door frame between the two rooms, craning our necks trying to watch the performers, while trying to tune out the heavy metal guitar coming from the bottom floor (they have multiple musical performances per night).

Up until that point, I was considering leaving early, but then a woman in an orange corduroy jacket, black jeans, and white leather boots stood up. She plugged in her computer with a soundtrack, while a man next to her warmed up on a saxophone. She explained she had already released several LPs but had never performed in this type of setting before. For the next couple of songs, she sang beautifully. She had a smooth voice full of emotion, her music a mix between pop and R&B. The mellow beat and saxophone (and at one point, a flute!) added life in the room as everyone swayed along to the beat.

Later in the night, we finally got a seat in the front row on a comfy blue velvet couch. By then we were hungry, so I went over to the bar and ordered a bowl of fries. The bartender asked if I’d like anything to drink, before glancing at me and saying, “We’ve got apple juice, orange juice, and cranberry juice.” Wow, I didn’t think I looked that young.

A steaming bowl of fries and a few songs later, we were perfectly content to stay on the couch for the rest of the night. Soon after we had to go, leaving the smell of fries, rhythmic thumping, and energy of the room indoors, before stepping into the brisk, windy night.

Open-mic night at the Songbyrd Cafe is great for patrons to dive into the DC music scene. Not only is it free of charge, but it emits a musical aura that is present the second you walk through the door. I recommend you go to the Songbyrd Cafe; try it out for yourself!